Charities are stuck in their old ways and often do not have the resources and innovation to use technology to their advantage. In this digital age, many of them are lost and are of the older generation. They need as much assistance as possible to transform the way they do things, especially fundraising. At present there are 208 000 charities that have been registered in South Africa, many of them on the brink of closing down. CONECKT aims to connect these organizations to each other in order to facilitate the sharing of ideas, information, donations and resources. In addition, CONECKT sources valuable information from various platforms and shares these opportunities through technology and networking. Social workers, managers and skills centres are in crises and they are all asking for money from people who are no longer able to give. Corona has ceased many of the fundraising initiatives that used to bring in an income- such as a golf day or sale. It has also created a massive divide between the haves and have nots. The people who put on weight during lockdown vs the millions who are literally starving.
There are 3 main Issues that we identified:
1 As Covid-19 hit our shore, it soon became clear that comorbidities severly impact survival rates link. Hypertension / Obesity is a preventable disease, which can be countered with good diet and exercise
2. Lockdown has had many detrimental effects on our mental health, such as loss of socialization, purpose and personal connection link. In preparation for the second wave of infections, we need to set a foundation for people to find purpose and belonging in a virtual society
3. Due to certain companies being unable to trade during lockdown, their contributions to charity have lessened. Furthermore, massive job losses mean that families that usually would contribute to charity now have to manage with added debt burden and less disposable income link. The effect is that charities traditional income stream has taken a knock, which could lead to their closure
Due to my video editing software deciding it has had enough, unfortunately you have to open the 3 videos below in parallel to see it in action
We try and tackle all 3 problems using a proven fundraising model, where we motivate members of society (Heroes) to lose weight / get fit for their charity. Their friends and family pledge money towards them reaching their goal. All the while, the cause itself is encouraging and motivating the Hero to achieve their goal by sending videos and pictures that uplift and energize the Hero, making them feel like they are making a difference and showing the supporters where there funds are going
This model has 3 main types of users:
The Charity The Organisation that would like to benefit from this challenge. Their benefits include:
Marketing as a beneficiary on the challenge
Financial donations for the heroes that achieve their goal
Marketing of their services through their messages to their Hero
Zero fuss signup
The person wanting to "Flatten their curves" by getting fit / eating healthy / setting a wellness goal
They volunteer to take up the challenge and identify their goal ( By consulting with a fitness consultant )
They set a goal that can be measured weekly. This ensures that they are on track and see progress
They gain supporters by sharing a unique link that track his progress and pledges
Supporter The Hero's friends and family that would like to support the Hero's goal and pledge money to the chosen charity when the goal is achieved
They see their chosen hero transform through the challenge, be it losing a few pounds or gaining some stamina
What it does
In a previous iteration, keeping track of each Hero, their progress and their pledges was done using an Excel spreadsheet, which soon became unmanageable
For this hackathon, we decided to convert the challenge into a completely digital experience, and to automate the process to remove human administration and error. This is done by creating a virtual persona that would fill the role of facilitator of the challenge, allowing registrations, updates in progress, sharing of info and keeping in touch, all on the messenger platform
How I built it
Our team has been tirelessly working on this entry using the following technologies:
Using our experience using the Microsoft Bot framework, I was able to quickly leverage the benefits that facebook messenger provides over a traditional web based Sign-up form. The stack made it easy to save conversation state and implement decisions based on previous input, while the language generation module helped give the bot some personality.
Facebook's messenger is definitely the more mature chat and social platform, with easy UI elements that allow a rich interaction, combining the simplicity of chat and power of UI Templates and galleries. This makes the conversation natural and powerful
Azure services and visual studio, easily the leading partner when it comes to bot creation, coding and hosting. No other stack compares to the ease of use and maturity
Challenges I ran into
Many charities do not have an up-to-date website or contact information, so Naomi had to manually find and engage with them to onboard
Converting traditional web based signup Traditional signup forms tend to ask all the information on one page, with context often being lost between pages. When working on messenger as the primary platform, context is easily kept as the user can just scroll up in the conversation. Making sure the bot keeps all the context entered and makes use of it instead of asking anew
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
Implementing the full experience using a bot.
From signup to achieving your goal, no human interaction is required.
Streamlining the signup form
Traditional signup forms as for details that users are tired of entering (ie, name, surname, email address, confirm email etc). By leveraging facebook as a trusted platform, I am able to read basic user info with minimal effort and make it easy for the user to enter known values (see email and phone number quick replies)
Increasing social cohesion through the bot
As soon as one of the Hero's supporters sign up, I'm able to notify the Hero and tell them. This creates an interesting dynamic where the bot seems like a personal assistant, notifying appropriately and playing "messenger".
Using quick replies to improve interaction quality
When a hero achieves their weekly goal, the supporter is notified via messenger. This creates an opportunity for the supporter to encourage and uplift the Hero who has spent a week working towards their goal. We found that using quick replies with positive and uplifting messages, made the supporter choose it more than writing their own, and thus increasing the value of the interaction by setting a high standard.
Keeping it human
Most charities are charged with protection of those within it's care. For instance, animal charities like the SPCA (the South African ASPCA), have lots of dogs that now become cheerleaders and supporters. The motivation behind you achieving the fitness goal really lies in you knowing that people are counting on you to help them.
One of the organisations (Kadihma) specializes in care for those with mental disability. This organisation was able to send videos to encourage the Hero, directly from the beneficiary.
Here Noah was cheering on Trevor, giving him the indication that his efforts really make a difference link
What I learned
People interacted with my bot as if it was a human, despite us making it clear that it is not. It shows that if you implement a proper logical, guided flow the user knows how to interact instead of creating a bot from the NLP and AI side first, which leaves the user with wondering what to do or what the capabilities are. Being upfront with options and guides and always prompting with a hint lets the user know what to do without them feeling lost or uncertain
What's next for Flatten That Curve
We would like to find partners and opportunity in the international market. The solution is scalable and generic enough to be applied to any country and organization. Streamline the process further with more customization and enhancements